Iran Pulse

Why are Iran’s environmental workers protesting?

Article Summary
Employees of Iran's Environmental Protection Organization are protesting corruption, negligent budget management and low wages.

Employees of Iran’s Environmental Protection Organization (EPO) held protests in Tehran on Oct. 24. The protests were widely covered and welcomed by Iran’s conservative media and conservative politicians who issued warnings to the head of the EPO, Masoumeh Ebtekar.

The protesters held signs addressing the lack of accountability in the organization's budget and workers' wages, saying they do not even reach poverty level earnings in Iran.

The conservative Fars News Agency interviewed protesters who claimed that unqualified individuals were hired at the organization for their political loyalty rather than their expertise. They claimed there have been 240 individuals illegally hired by the organization to increase the number of political allies. Others complained to Fars News that there is a culture of intimidation in the organization, that those who protest poor management or their wages have been threatened with firing or encouraged to leave.

In an article headlined “Ebtekar’s honeymoon is over,” Raja News published an interview with former deputy at the EPO, Mohammad Bagher Sadough. Sadough compared Ebtekar to the former Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, when he created a one-party state and told those who are not happy to leave the country. Sadough claimed that Ebtekar had polarized the organization and created an “us versus them” environment.

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Members of parliament also criticized Ebtekar for her management of the EPO. Tehran MP Seyed Mehdi Hashemi said that Ebtekar’s management had more of a political aspect to it than an environmental aspect. Mohammad Saleh Jokar said that Ebtekar is “entertaining herself with political affairs” rather than thinking about the wages and livelihood of the EPO employees.

Ebtekar is no stranger to political controversy or the harsh political infighting within the Islamic Republic of Iran. Like many others who were involved in the US Embassy takeover of 1979, Ebtekar is today a Reformist politician. This puts her on the opposite end of the political spectrum of the hard-line Endurance Front, which was one of the main blocs that supported former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Ebtekar first responded to the protest coverage on her Twitter account Oct. 27, claiming that the Endurance Front and hard-line newspaper Vatan-e Emrooz had “provoked a small number of employees” at the organization. She added that while the wages of employees is an important issue, she doesn’t have time for “political games” with the Endurance Front.

Ebtekar was also interviewed for Iran newspaper Oct. 28 to respond in detail to the accusations raised against her. She admitted that there are shortcomings in her organization but denied she was politicizing the situation. Rather, she said, it is the conservative media that is politicizing the protests. Ebtekar placed some of the blame on the negligence of the former administration, claiming that the organization is still paying off debts incurred under the previous administration.

In response to accusations by Vatan-e Emrooz that cars belonging to foreign ministries of other countries have entered the EPO building proves that she has used the organization as a means to conduct political work, Ebtekar said that Iran is finally coming out of political isolation and that she is thankful for agreements with international organizations.

Ebtekar also called the accusation of illegally hiring 240 employees “a complete lie.”

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Found in: workers' rights, protests, iranian economy, iran, environmental issues, employment, corruption

Arash Karami is a contributor to Al-Monitor. On Twitter: @thekarami

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